Gold Rush Girl
Candlewick Press, 2020
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What’s this book about?
Avi brings us mud-caked, tent-filled San Francisco in 1848 with a willful heroine who goes on an unintended—and perilous—adventure to save her brother.
Victoria Blaisdell longs for independence and adventure, and she yearns to accompany her father as he sails west in search of real gold! But it is 1848, and Tory isn’t even allowed to go to school, much less travel all the way from Rhode Island to California. Determined to take control of her own destiny, Tory stows away on the ship. Though San Francisco is frenzied and full of wild and dangerous men, Tory finds freedom and friendship there. Until one day, when Father is in the gold fields, her younger brother, Jacob, is kidnapped. And so Tory is spurred on a treacherous search for him in Rotten Row, a part of San Francisco Bay crowded with hundreds of abandoned ships. Beloved storyteller Avi is at the top of his form as he ushers us back to an extraordinary time of hope and risk, brought to life by a heroine readers will cheer for. Spot-on details and high suspense make this a vivid, absorbing historical adventure.
Awards and Recognition
San Francisco is a city where I have lived often, visited, and have great fondness for. I first went there in the fall of 1961, having finished my graduate class time at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. A fellow I knew was setting up a new theatre, and he wanted to do a play I had written. I took a Greyhound bus from Madison to Chicago, another bus from the Windy City to the Golden Gate. I have a vivid recollection of the bus coming to a stop moments after crossing into Nevada. “Nevada!” the driver shouted, waking me up. “Half an hour stop.” I watched most of the passengers pour off and start playing slot machines. It was two AM.
Once in San Francisco I met the guy who wanted to produce my play. Turns out he had already hired an actor for the first play he was going to put on—an adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses. That actor was named Tom Ewing, a good friend of mine from Wisconsin theatre days.
Awards and Recognition
- California Young Readers Medal 2022–2023 Intermediate nominee
“With his characteristically suspenseful style, Avi crafts a rousing historical adventure helmed by a spirited protagonist whom readers will love. Tory’s first-person narration further connects readers to the gold rush–era story, which concludes with room for future exploits. One of Avi’s best.” (J.B. Petty, Booklist, starred review)
“Gold rush fever brings 13-year-old Tori, her father, and her younger brother Jacob to 1849 San Francisco. The untamed town is a world away from their staid life in Providence, but headstrong Tori embraces the move. Like her literary heroine Jane Eyre, Tori longs for a life of adventure. After their father leaves for the gold fields, Tori and Jacob fend for themselves in a city where the vulnerable are often exploited. Jacob’s sudden disappearance compels Tori to set aside her dreams of independence and find her brother. Avi once more proves himself a master of historical fiction, effectively using Tori’s search to immerse readers in the city’s sights and sounds. Fully realized supporting characters reflect the mélange of cultures and dreams that brought people to California in search of gold. Tori is more than the “spunky girl ahead of her time” trope; she’s a daughter, a sister, a friend, and an individual who is set on achieving her dreams but not at the expense of others. Avi speaks through Tori to convey appreciation for libraries, literature, and the true value of reading: “It is not to learn about others. It is to learn about oneself.” VERDICT Tori discovers adventure in the novel’s taut, suspenseful narrative, and self-determination in the final scene, which leaves readers’ spirits as full as the sails on the little boat that carries her toward the future. A first purchase for all middle grade libraries.” (School Library Journal, Marybeth Kozikowski, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY)
“Did you know that in Gold Rush days, before the shoreline was filled and built up, Montgomery Street was on the waterfront? Did you know that a whole fleet of nineteenth century ships are buried amidst the foundations of downtown San Francisco buildings? There is much fascinating San Francisco history and geography tucked into this glorious romp through California’s Gold Rush days. Gold Rush Girl is the best book for young people about the 1849 Gold Rush since Sid Fleischman’s By the Great Horn Spoon, a book I first read back in fourth grade. … While I typically don’t pay much attention to dust jackets, Sarah J. Coleman’s eye-catching artwork here is a wonderful representation of the three adolescents, onboard and on their way to find and rescue Jacob. Avi’s conclusion to the story, while thoroughly fulfilling, begs for a sequel. I, for one, can’t wait!” (Richie Partington, Richie’s Picks)
“Containing strong feminist themes, this fast-paced tale vividly contrasts the wildness of 19th-century San Francisco with stuffier New England. Tory is a brave yet naive protagonist, who makes a number of mistakes before proving herself a hero, and her dangerous encounters with unscrupulous villains provide nonstop excitement and suspense.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Upon their arrival in San Francisco (with its shockingly squalid, overcrowded living conditions), Father takes off for the gold fields, leaving Tory in charge of Jacob’s care and responsible for finding work. She makes three friends: Thad, a young man from Maine; Señor Rosales, owner of a nearby restaurant; and Sam, a bugle-player (who is African American)performing in the local saloons Tory’s self-liberation and her relationships with both Señor Rosales and Sam are tinged with twenty-first century sensibilities but nonetheless underscore her spunk and independence. When a thug (or crimp, in the local vernacular) kidnaps Jacob to force him into maritime service, it’s up to Tory, Thad, and Sam to find him. Readers are thrust into a rip-roaring adventure, filled with suspense and danger, and open-ended enough for a sequel.” (Betty Carter, The Horn Book)
“A splendidly exciting and accessible historical adventure.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Tory delivers the goods for adventure-hungry historical fiction fans.” (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)
“… readers … will experience a great historical adventure through the streets, ships, and harbors of San Francisco. They’ll learn about crimps who kidnap men and children and force them to work on ships. Readers will also fall in love with Tory, whose independence is tested when Jacob goes missing on her watch. She will join forces with her newfound friends to find the brother whom she once wished wasn’t always around, but would ultimately risk her life to save.” (School Library Connection, Susan Anderson)
“In typical Avi style, readers are immersed in 1848 San Francisco. Vivid imagery and descriptive language paint a detailed picture of the squalid conditions both on board ships and in the city, as well as the mud and the foggy weather which impact many key scenes. Tory’s first person narrative makes the story even more exciting, and makes her character accessible to 21st century readers who will identify with her emotions in many circumstances (especially her desire for something exciting to happen and her resentment at being left to care for her brother). Tory makes a number of mistakes in her quest to rescue Jacob, and her willingness to admit them endears her further to her friends and her readers. This is a fast-paced adventure full of suspense, with likable friends and despicable villains, well worth the voyage.” (Youth Services Book Review)